Sunday, May 16, 2010

What Did You Learn?

A friend of mine (Steve Markoff who is on the faculty of Montclair State) shared with me an interesting exercise that he does on the final exam for his courses. He asks the students to complete the following sentence anonymously: “During the semester, I learned…”

He then has another person gather this information into a Word file that he emails back to his students.

There are several things that I like about this idea.

First, it forces all of the students to reflect on the semester and make an evaluation. “What did I learn that is worth putting down?” I think every class could benefit from more student reflection and evaluation. We convey information to them and they convey it back to us, possibly without ever thinking of why they are doing that and what thy are gaining from the process. We often end the semester with a final examination that asks “can you apply LIFO?” or “do you know how to compute interest expense?” without any general query about what was actually learned.

Second, these reflections should help the teacher get better at teaching. If Steve doesn’t like what he reads from the students, he can consider what changes need to be made. I have never made a secret that I do not like formal student evaluations which too often hinge on whether you get a 4.3 or a 4.2 on a five point scale. However, I believe that asking students what they learned and then deciding whether you like the answer or not is a very valid way to get some genuine feedback.

Third, it gives students a take away from the semester. Too often, students study like mad and take a complicated final exam and then walk off without the semester being brought to any type of logical conclusion. Somehow there should be some closure to the semester other than the mystery of walking away from a final exam wondering what you got right and what you got wrong and then a grade magically appearing on a grade report. By sending out the list of “what did you learn in this course?” the students can get a sense of what the entire community gained from the course and I think that is a great wrap up.

Thanks Steve, I’ve learned something that I’ll probably try myself next fall.

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